We’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather? Good credo but sometimes a little hard to practise? Found a popular Buddhist kavach (literally ‘cage’/‘shield’ meaning ‘protection verse’) for those tough times just this Thursday. Guided by the excellent example of Sri Ramanuja who rushed to tell everybody the eight-syllable mahamantra ‘Om Namo Narayanaya’ the minute he received it, I’d like to share this kavach with you. Almost everybody has a tradition of or belief in special verses that are considered to be extraordinarily powerful shields. They operate as utterances of faith in the Almighty and respect for the holy ones whom we feel went much closer than us, to give us courage to gamely fight the battles of life.
That’s the mytho origin of Raksha Bandhan anyway that Indra, king of the celestials, had to fight big bad Vritra for survival and kept being bested until his wife Shachi Devi tied a thread she had prayed over on his sword arm (or thunderbolt arm?). In his next battle, when he felt he was going under, the sight of that thread gave him back his fighting spirit and he vanquished Vritra. As Martin Luther the medieval German Christian reformer said epochs later, “A strong citadel is our God, a good shield and weapon”.
From the Qu’ran, it’s Surah 2 (Al Baqarah) Ayat 18 that many recite as their ‘kavach’, following an old Sufi practice. From Sikhism, the splendid kavach verse I was taught years ago is by Guru Gobind Singh: “Deh Shiva var moh ihe/shubh karman se kabhon na tarun/ na daraun arsaun jab chahe ladaun/ nishchai kar apni jeet karun”. In gist, “Auspicious One, grant that I shall never shrink from doing the right thing or fear to fight the good fight, that I will fight to win”.
In north India and now popular across the South as well, it’s the Hanuman Chalisa by Goswami Tulsidas, which was composed with the ‘Sri Ramcharitmanas’ in colloquial Hindi under the protection of Tulsi’s poet-pal Abdur-Rahim Khan-e-khanan, the Mughal governor of Kashi: there were strong objections from learned quarters to what must have seemed a shocking pop take on Valmiki’s Sanskrit Ramayana.
So, the Pali kavach: ‘Jina panjara parittam mam rakkhantu sabbada’: ‘The protection of the sacred texts of the Jinas (conquerors = spiritually realised) will guard all.’
Indeed, I saw a tee with this kavach silk-printed in ‘Gothic-Thai’ lettering: verse and threads both?
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture